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Gulf carriers lead air services push to Iraq

Qatar Airways has become the latest Gulf carrier to add or expand service to Iraq as demand for travel rises to the war-torn country as it rebuilds its infrastructure.

The Doha-based airline has announced that the northern Iraqi city of Erbil and capital Baghdad will join its international portfolio of routes over a period of two weeks.

Flights to Erbil will begin on May 23, while service to Baghdad will kick off on June 7. Both routes will be operated four-times-a-week non-stop from Doha.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said Iraq had long been under the company’s radar as the country has been underserved for many years due to political instability.

“Now we believe is the right time to enter Iraq due to demand and infrastructure changes in a country that warrants more business and greater air access,” he said.

“We constantly evaluate numerous route opportunities and taking into consideration a number of factors, we feel that now is the opportunity to venture into this market. With international corporate houses looking to do business in Iraq, frequent air access will ease travel to and from the country via our Doha hub.

“The two Iraq routes mark the first start-ups in the Middle East for over a year and we continue to look at further destinations within the region to widen our reach.”

Other Gulf carriers expand services in Iraq

The expansion of services by Qatar Airways follows recent moves by Gulf carriers to add flights to Iraq.

In February, Emirates increased the frequency of its flights between Dubai and Baghdad from four to seven times weekly, just three months after launching the route. The airline also flies to Basra and offers dedicated freighter service into Erbil.

Low-cost carrier Flydubai recently labelled Iraq as one of its cornerstone markets after opening its fourth route into the country. The carrier first launched services to Iraq in 2010 with routes to Erbil and Sulaimaniyah. This year it added two new routes – Baghdad and Najaf – and now offers 14 flights per week between Iraq and the UAE.

In April, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways launched flights to Basra, the third city it flies to in Iraq. The carrier also operates services to Baghdad and Erbil.

Also last month, Jazeera Airways launched non-stop flights between Kuwait and Najaf with a frequency of two flights a week, making it the first airline to introduce scheduled passenger flights between Kuwait and an Iraqi city in over 20 years. The carrier also plans to add service to other cities such Mosul, Erbil and Baghdad.

To help boost the growth of its aviation sector, Iraq has been investing heavily to redevelop its airport infrastructure. In 2008, a new airport was completed in Najaf with capacity for two million passengers. Two years later, a new $450m airport opened in Erbil with capacity for three million passengers. Another new airport is planned at a site between Najaf and Karbala, with capacity for 15 million passengers when completed in 2014.